G.N. Ramachandran (1923-2001)

G.N. Ramachandran, an outstanding figure in the field of protein structure, passed away at the age of 78, on April 7, 2001, in Chennai (the erstwhile city of Madras), India. Ramachandran (G.N.R. or Ram to his friends and associates) was the founder of the ‘Madras school’ of conformational analysis of biopolymers. His discovery of the triple helical structure of collagen in 1955 and his analysis of the allowed conformations of proteins through the use of the ‘Ramachandran plot’ rank among the most outstanding contributions in structural biology, along with Pauling’s description of the α-helix and Watson and Crick’s discovery of the double helical structure of DNA. Ramachandran became a professor of physics at the U. of Madras at the age of 29 and set up a fully equipped modern X-ray crystallographic lab at Madras.

The IUCr awarded the 5th Ewald Prize to Ramachandran for his outstanding contributions to the field of crystallography. Specifically, the award was 'in the area of anomalous scattering, …in the analysis of the structure of fibers, collagen in particular, and, foremost, for his fundamental works on the macromolecular conformation and the validation of macromolecular structures by means of the Ramachandran plot'.

Ramachandran was a man of many talents. He was interested in classical Indian and Western Music, as well as in the philosophical systems of India and the West. During his brilliant and illustrious academic career, the number of awards, medals and citations conferred on him are too numerous to be listed. As a man who breathed science, and in terms of his lasting contributions to structural biology, Ramachandran belonged to the same intellectual class as Srinivasa Ramanujan in mathematics and Subrahmanya Chandrasekhar in astrophysics. To know more about the life an times of Ramachandran, the reader is referred to Ramachandran – a biography, by R. Sarma. Ramachandran’s death is a grievous loss not only to his family members but also to the Indian and International scientific community and marks the passing away of a brilliant mind with great passion for structural biology. His scientific contributions will remain as monuments to his superb intellect.

E. Subramanian, Nature Structural Biology, Vol. 8 No. 6 June 2001